While most are focused on election season, the University of Wisconsin System is instead firmly focused on January, when the start of a new budget cycle begins and the fiscal fate of each of Wisconsin’s 26 public colleges and universities is determined.
Many were predicting another tough budget for UW, but Gov. Scott Walker has indicated that he is open to restoring some of the funding to the UW System after a $250 million cut in the last budget. This is despite telling state agencies not to expect additional money in the next budget in a letter to agency heads last month.
“To build on our commitment to student success, we must extend the tuition freeze,” Walker wrote in the July 25 letter. “This will make our universities affordable and accessible. These two items will help our young people develop the skills they will need for career and life.”
Walker has also said he will continue the tuition freeze for in-state students which has been in place for the past four years and will push for performance-based funding for the UW System, which could drive further funding increases.
Performance-based funding is presently used in 32 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The mechanisms vary from state to state but legislatures usually dole out more money if certain objectives are met. These goals are usually tied to graduation rates, student retention and job placement in high-demand fields, which are usually in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) areas.
The UW System and System President Ray Cross have both pushed for greater funding to help UWcampuses cope after having their funding slashed in the last budget. The agency’s budget proposal, approved at a Board of Regents meeting earlier this month, asks the state to end the tuition freeze and pump $42.5 million more back into the system.
“The decision related to tuition costs should be kept at the Board of Regents: they are the closest to the students and need to be able to consider options for 2018 and beyond,” the proposal said.
Each state agency will draft and submit a budget proposal to the governor’s office, outlining its funding request. The documents will be taken into account as Walker drafts the 2017-’19 biennium budget proposal, which he will unveil in a January speech.
From there, the legislature’s powerful budget writing committee, the Joint Committee on Finance, will hear from state agencies directly, including the UW System, and receive feedback on Walker’s proposed budget.
The finance committee can amend the proposal as they see fit before sending their version of the budget to the full legislature, probably next summer. Both the state Senate and state Assembly must approve the budget before sending it to Walker for final approval.